Hi Guys – Welcome to my blog!
I’ve always wanted to blog about my life but have always made excuses, such as it would take too much time, not wanting people I know to find out about it as it can get really personal (srsly lol) and that I kinda thought it was a bit embarrassing. Over the past 8 years, I have been really struggling with certain things and honestly, got really sick of them. Over the past couple of months, I have been doing everything in my power to help myself and thought, hey why not blog my journey for personal gain and also maybe help someone who may be in the same shoes who might need help understanding it better? I can only hope I would help someone that was experiencing something similar as me and to know that it’s okay to not be okay. I would like to get on with my story (it’s gonna be quite long, let me warn you) as it is probably the best way to describe everything – so grab a cup of tea, get some dark chocolate, put your PJs on and let’s begin.
Hi, I’m Arianna. I am a 20-year-old student studying Nutrition. To just get right into it, I have struggled with severe generalised anxiety and panic disorder since I was 12. People may think that its weird to introduce it so early and abruptly, but the reality is that it plays a huge part in my life and I always have to take it into account in every decision in life. When I was 12, I started experiencing weird symptoms such as ‘feeling in a dream’ and ‘always out of it’. I was always a huge worrier, despite being so young and having possibly nothing to really worry about (now that I’m 20, I know this – trust me). These symptoms would last 24/7, but would ease off occasionally, like waves. I went to the doctors and they referred me to a psychologist. Despite this, we never went and I always dealt with it on my own.
When I was 14, I found a love and passion for fitness and healthy eating. Unfortunately, I did not gain it through a healthy route – I went through a very unhealthy patch of eating less than 500 calories a day and running up to 40 minutes a day. Some days if I had eaten more, I would binge and purge. I lost weight dramatically, as you would, and my mum obviously piped up and stressed her worries. The reality was, the weight loss and losing weight and generally feeling better about myself helped my ‘dream-like’ symptoms. Naturally, I hit a wall of exhaustion when I was 15 and on my own accord, gradually increased my calories up to 1,500 calories, maintaining the same running regime as before. This was where my love of Nutrition came in – devising myself weekly meal plans, discovering new diets, researching about food components and educating myself on the importance of a healthy lifestyle. I would probably think that was the best shape I had ever been, not to mention the happiest I had ever been.
I should also mention that since I was 5 years old, I have ridden and competed horses (not professionally!!). You can ask anyone at school and they would always say ‘oh ari, that horse obsessed girl’ or ‘the pony girl’ lol. I had two horses at this time, Ricardo and Oscar. I would literally finish school, head to the stables, ride for three hours, go to the gym, do my homework, eat and go to bed – every day. In fact, I actually loved the routine. The horses were my escape and still are to this day.
Unfortunately, a personal experience occurred in the summer of 2013 that I won’t go too much into and this is basically when it all went downhill. I had my first panic attack – heart racing out of my chest, knees numb, a huge hot flash, vision was black, dizziness etc. I genuinely thought I was having a heart attack and I can still say to this day that it was the scariest experience of my life, even though that may sound trivial to some people. After that summer, I started experiencing some stomach issues – bloating, constipation (sorry!), stomach gurgles and pains down my abdomen. Now when I look back, I can see that it all ties in with my anxiety as this is when it started getting worse.
I returned to school in the late August to start the two year International Baccalaureate (IB) programme which is a bit like A levels, however, you do 6 subjects instead of 3 and you have extra bits to do on the side. To say the least, it was extremely stressful. On most days, my mum would have to pick me up from school or some days I didn’t even go in as I was so afraid of having a panic attack and not being able to escape the room, or because I was too embarrassed to have a panic attack in front of my friends. Some days, it would be manageable, but some days I couldn’t cope. I was riding less as my horse Ricky had injured himself, was running less as I had to focus more on my studies and things just seemed to be quite unorganised and not in order in my life. The teachers expressed their concerns about my attendance and how they didn’t think I was going to pass the IB.
In the spring of 2014, I lost my beautiful horse Ricky due to his injury never recovering. Living without him now, I can see how much he was my therapy and escape as I relied on him completely if I had a stressful day or if I had 1,000 things to think about. It doesn’t matter – as soon as I hopped in the saddle, it was like a controller pressed pause and my mind felt clear and quiet. Unfortunately, having to put him down made my anxiety a whole lot worse as I lost my main coping mechanism. We ended up selling Oscar as I couldn’t bear to be around horses anymore as it just reminded me of Ricky. This was a huge factor in the downfall that occurred in Summer 2015.
I completed my IB exams with very good results after 4 months of straight studying from 4pm-4am. I honestly put my heart and soul into those exams, even if it meant that I would avoid eating, avoid the gym and avoid all social interactions. My stomach issues were the worst they had ever been – I had to take stomach relaxers, beta-blockers, charcoal and digestive enzymes just to get through my exams. I didn’t care though – all I had in mind was my goal and to study Nutrition at the Uni I am now. Obviously, you can see that this isn’t the healthiest way to go about it, as life should be about BALANCE. I can’t say it was all bad though, as I got into my dream Uni and I suppose the hard work paid off!
As soon as I finished my last exam, 2 hours later I jetted off to Amsterdam for a huge weekend with the girls. I had a panic attack there and back. I started feeling really weird again. Following that weekend, I went to Ibiza for 10 days with my school year as a ‘senior trip’. I’m not going to beat around the bush – there was a lot of alcohol involved. My stomach was shredded, I was tired and my mental health was deteriorating rapidly. I just didn’t understand though – shouldn’t I have felt happy that I had finished my dreaded exams and shouldn’t I have been feeling really good?? On reflection, all those things that I did – lack of sleep, lack of taking care of myself etc lead me to develop Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and Adrenal Fatigue and I was officially diagnosed in Summer 2015. I was burnt out, emotionally and physically and my body literally was shaken to the core.
I returned back from Ibiza, and remember sleeping for weeks. I genuinely could not get out of bed without feeling super dizzy and shakey. I was constantly ‘out of it’. My conversations with my parents consisted of me replying with one-word answers and not being able to remember what I had previously replied. I couldn’t go into the supermarket or get into my car without feeling or having a panic attack come on. I was so low and so exhausted. I couldn’t even go to one of my friend’s houses and talk to them as everything felt so strange to me and I was immediately shaken up. I thought it was just another bout of bad anxiety and that it would pass, however, unfortunately, this one lingered.
The only times it would ease off, was when I would drink copious amounts of alcohol to ‘numb the edge’. But as soon as the next day hit, I wouldn’t be able to get up as my chest and back were too tight to breathe, my knees were weak and everything felt so loud and scary. I remember getting out of bed a couple of times a day to do childs pose, just to be able to stretch my back out to be able to breathe. I can honestly say I spent 95% of Summer 2015 in bed.
As gutting as it was, I deferred my offer to study at Uni for a year. I was angry at myself, my body and just didn’t know how things escalated this quickly in just four months. From a girl who was somewhat managing, socialising with friends and studying – to someone who couldn’t even get out of bed and was completely agoraphobic. I couldn’t even sit in the front of my brothers wedding where all my family were and even had my mum sit at the back with me as I felt so on edge and shakey – what if I had to get up and leave in front of everyone at my brother’s wedding? It would be horrible and reflect so badly on me. The week after, I was diagnosed with severe panic disorder, generalised anxiety and moderate depression.
The next 7 months were all about recovery, I started getting up and going into the gym, started eating healthily again, socialising, driving again and began CBT therapy. It was extremely hard and testing and I’m not going to lie, I missed sessions because just being in that echoey room would set me off. However, it led me to some milestones – such as going into a supermarket again without rushing really quick before an attack came on. I had setbacks of course, such as when I would go out drinking on the weekend and I would need to spend a couple days in bed just to get myself back on track. I also got a job as a Nanny over the year to a family nearby and found it very testing – picking up the kids and them being my responsibility stressed me out. However, it was bitter-sweet as it got me out of the house and made me feel as if I was doing something pro-active. Despite this, I went through a patch of thinking my anxiety was never going to get better as my mental health didn’t feel much better and I had reached January in my year off and things were at a standstill. Que: SPENCER!
My friend offered me to take her pony Spencer in February before I headed to Uni in the next September. He honestly is my godsend and completely changed my life. You never think how much an animal will change your life, but he gave me a responsibility and a reason to get out of bed, to get out and be active again. It would also force me to socialise with the people who worked there, which meant I was talking again and coming out of my withdrawn shell. Time went on, and I felt a lot better. I started going out with friends again, out to shopping centers, hanging around the gym more without rushing in and out and meeting new people. I finally was becoming the bubbly, confident girl again that I had lost over the year. I plucked up the courage to pass my trailer test so that I could compete Spencer over the summer and I passed within 2 weeks of having lessons! That summer, we competed a lot and I felt so accomplished that I could actually go and do that, considering the position I was in the same time the year before.
Uni time swang around and I was actually ready! I turned to my parents (me being me lol) and asked if I could take Spencer to Uni with me. His owner was thankfully on board with it and my parents came around to the idea as well (love them). I realise it is a huge commitment and that at times it could probably be stressful – which isn’t a help really, however I feel like if I didn’t consistently have riding in my life, my mental health would deteriorate. Low and behold, I am in my second year of Uni and Spenny is still around – best decision I have EVER made 🙂
The first year of Uni was good and bad – I had my off days but I also had exceptionally good days. My anxiety is not cured, and it never will be. The way I live my life determines how I feel and so I basically have to live healthily all the time, which is a pain! However, I do realise it is all about balance so if I have to sacrifice a day in bed for a good night out, I’ll do it and take a chill day off.
Unfortunately, my stomach issues have not refrained and I have been sorting them out for the past month. They have been my main driving force behind this blog basically. I went to Greece a couple weeks ago and got tests such as an endoscopy, ultrasound and blood tests. Sadly, it just came back with a blunt diagnosis of Irritable Bowel Syndrome. I will do a huge blog post about the stomach and gut health, as I know how much it affects me and would love to help someone in the same situation as me, knowing that being at Uni you have a lot of factors that may affect your gut health (alcohol, food choice and stress being a couple). Currently, I am following a low FODMAP diet (again-will do a blog post about this), eating primarily vegan, excluding gluten and lactose, minimising alcohol and focusing a lot on my fitness and overall health. I have scheduled an appointment with a renowned nutritionist in my area to get some more tests done such as food intolerance and allergy tests. Hopefully, something will come out of it.
I am optimistic that this year will be all about feeling even better and getting almost back to normal. I have fantastic people surrounding me and giving me an incredible amount of support, not to mention my beautiful little unicorn Spen, who basically saved my life. I don’t know who will read this or if anyone ever will, however I cannot wait to look back on my journey and know that I have been proactive about changing my life and recovering. And please if you have any questions, ask me because I love to talk about life in general and to generally talk about similar experiences. Some people would have just considered me to be a happy, healthy Ari but honestly, they didn’t know what was going on in my head so it’s SO important to talk about. I don’t want it all to be all morbid and dreary – there is most certainly a light at the end of the tunnel, take it from me. I would love to do about two posts a week, all about food, mental health, coping mechanisms, fitness and general health – honestly posting about anything that makes you feel good and mentally happy. And lastly (and abruptly sorry!), I’ve literally spent two hours writing this and REALLY need to do some work, so am signing off for the night – have a good one!
Lots of love, Ari xx